ABSTRACT

The appeal of the Jackass television series and film franchise, centered around stunts wherein the performers deliberately hurt and humiliate themselves, has been considered a unique and peculiar mystery by cultural critics, one that can only be solved by looking at its particular historical and sociocultural context. In contrast, this article argues that Jackass constitutes a resurgence of a widespread form of comedy whose roots stretch far back into human history: ritual clowning. Comparing the stunts and gags of Jackass with those of ritual clowns in traditional societies around the world, both are shown to be characterized by four universal comic themes: pain, sex, the foreign, and the sacred. In contrast to previous critical readings that have attributed each of these themes in Jackass to its particular historical and sociocultural context, this article argues that they are all ultimately grounded in our evolved psychology as universal pressure points that humor can tap into.

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